Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: Owen Reich on May 06, 2012, 11:38 PM

Title: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 06, 2012, 11:38 PM
Hi all, before anyone gets riled up I love the stuff and may import a whole lot of it one day.  I've heard about Calidama, but I'd like to hear of other small American suppliers of products that may also be used.  I am not talking about the following: kitty litter, turface, Primera one, permatil, mule mix, etc. etc.

Having been raised in Georgia (Macon and Acworth), I've seen kaoline and clay mining sites all over.  There must be a site that has "the right stuff" in America.  If you have something you personally have used for multiple years, please comment.  A little more info or a link about Calidama would also be great. 

Thanks
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Yenling83 on May 07, 2012, 05:35 PM
Hi all, before anyone gets riled up I love the stuff and may import a whole lot of it one day.  I've heard about Calidama, but I'd like to hear of other small American suppliers of products that may also be used.  I am not talking about the following: kitty litter, turface, Primera one, permatil, mule mix, etc. etc.

Having been raised in Georgia (Macon and Acworth), I've seen kaoline and clay mining sites all over.  There must be a site that has "the right stuff" in America.  If you have something you personally have used for multiple years, please comment.  A little more info or a link about Calidama would also be great. 

Thanks

When you said "the right stuff in America" do you literally mean akadama that is processed in the U.S.?  Or has anyone found a source and started producing akadama in the U.S.?   I have never used Calidama, but have heard it's much differnt than akadama- I believe it's not a volcanic product like akadama. 

Why the interest?
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 07, 2012, 06:41 PM
I'm interested in a more locally produced product.  Even if I buy the stuff myself here in Japan and import it, it's not exactly cheap.  It would be nice to have something produced in the States without all the hassle. Akadama is not a imported in super-high quantities when looked at on a "big picture" level, so I worry it may one day be banned on a whim by the government types....
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: FrankP999 on May 07, 2012, 06:55 PM
The Monastery in Conyers, GA has this statement on its web site about akadama,

A note about akadama.

The Double Line Brand company went out of business in early 2011. We have a new supplier who shipped 18 liter bags of akadama of the same hardness as the Double Line Brand.


The USDA has stopped a shipment of akadama from entering the country. Until this situation is resolved, akadama supplies will be tight and prices will be steady.





Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Judy on May 07, 2012, 07:10 PM
I applaud any efforts to find a local (US) source of a definitive good (best) soil material.  Akadama is already pretty pricey, but factoring in shipping makes it pretty non affordable for me.  (and I'll bet a lot of hobbyists) Add to that the fact that it does indeed break down in freeze/thaw/freeze climes, and it's not something that I'll use again.  Maybe now that there are more pro's in the USA, we can sort this out and get our own perfect substrate.
Thanks for this post Owen, keep at it, and maybe you can change the face of soil here.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: nathanbs on May 07, 2012, 07:57 PM
Hi all, before anyone gets riled up I love the stuff and may import a whole lot of it one day.  I've heard about Calidama, but I'd like to hear of other small American suppliers of products that may also be used.  I am not talking about the following: kitty litter, turface, Primera one, permatil, mule mix, etc. etc.

Having been raised in Georgia (Macon and Acworth), I've seen kaoline and clay mining sites all over.  There must be a site that has "the right stuff" in America.  If you have something you personally have used for multiple years, please comment.  A little more info or a link about Calidama would also be great. 

Thanks

When you said "the right stuff in America" do you literally mean akadama that is processed in the U.S.?  Or has anyone found a source and started producing akadama in the U.S.?   I have never used Calidama, but have heard it's much differnt than akadama- I believe it's not a volcanic product like akadama. 

Why the interest?

Akadama is a clay particle not an igneous or volcanic product. I believe Calidama is a sort of shale or slate hard pan that is broken up. It is likely some sort of sedimentary rock
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: John Kirby on May 07, 2012, 08:18 PM
Akadama is volcanic clay, that is clay in a volcanic region- thus some of its properties.

Judy, akadma breaks dow, all clay products will break down. Means you need to repot on a schedule. My trees freeze thaw- have for years, I just repotted a number of trees (about 100 that were in Akadama-Pumice-Volcanic or in Clay King Premix) that were last repotted in 2005-2008. Now, I don't let my trees freeze down to the -0 F level, we do protect and provide heat to keep above 15 F, no real issues. Yes the akadama is not as highly structured as it was, but it certainly was still functional. SO may be the issue lies with the quality of the akadama used, the repotting regiment and perhaps if the soil is appropriately screened, etc.

Interesting conversation, I too am looking forward to the day that we have a good Akadama equivalent in the US. I buy enough that having it available is important to me.

John
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: akeppler on May 07, 2012, 09:54 PM
Cali dama is just silicised clay. Very hard and has to be crushed between rollers.

Many articles with pictures here:

http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/natural-cat-litter-as-alternative-to-akadama/ (http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/natural-cat-litter-as-alternative-to-akadama/)

http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/why-should-i-sift-bonsai-soil/ (http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/why-should-i-sift-bonsai-soil/)

http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/calidama/ (http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/calidama/)

There is another product out here in California that is the best I have seen. It is really cheap and available to us here. I have no idea where it comes from but I know it is delivered by truck so it has to come from somewhere. It is called Mocha Lava.

Really good stuff. If someone knows what hugya looks like, then this is the same thing only dark brown. Not soft, very hard and does not break down. It can be broken with thumbnails but takes some effort. 7 mm in size, about 1/4 inch or a little larger. Irregular in shape and appears to be crushed. It is already mixed in with some regular lava of black and red. This stuff was available for years and then dried up. I recently have it again and bought 5 five gallon buckets at 5.00 a piece. A five gallon bucket full is equivilent to a bag and a third of akadama in volume. So I got about 6 and half bags of mix for 25.00. Thats pretty cheap.

I have to drive to Sacramento to get it, but there is plenty to do there to make a day of it.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: akeppler on May 07, 2012, 09:58 PM
The plate above has some dry and wet. The pile in the picture shows where I dug out my five buckets. I didn't put a dent in that pile. Probably about 5 yards there.

In this picture I broke a piece in half. You can see it is still wet inside after three days. It is also very porous and I love this stuff. Pretty dang light too. About the same as hugya, maybe just a tad heavier.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 07, 2012, 11:50 PM
Mocha Lava definitely looks interesting.  Thanks.  I kind of figured a logical substitute would come from the west coast due to more recent volcanic activity.  What about ancient lake-bed clay?  Just thinking out loud here. 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: nathanbs on May 08, 2012, 10:02 AM
Akadama is volcanic clay, that is clay in a volcanic region- thus some of its properties.

Judy, akadma breaks dow, all clay products will break down. Means you need to repot on a schedule. My trees freeze thaw- have for years, I just repotted a number of trees (about 100 that were in Akadama-Pumice-Volcanic or in Clay King Premix) that were last repotted in 2005-2008. Now, I don't let my trees freeze down to the -0 F level, we do protect and provide heat to keep above 15 F, no real issues. Yes the akadama is not as highly structured as it was, but it certainly was still functional. SO may be the issue lies with the quality of the akadama used, the repotting regiment and perhaps if the soil is appropriately screened, etc.

Interesting conversation, I too am looking forward to the day that we have a good Akadama equivalent in the US. I buy enough that having it available is important to me.

John

Out of curiosity is it clay formed from the ashes?
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: John Kirby on May 08, 2012, 12:48 PM
Nathan, no idea, it does cause one to wonder.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: nathanbs on May 08, 2012, 03:44 PM
i cant stop thinking about this mocha lava. Can you ask the yard you bought it from where they got it?
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Jim Doiron on May 08, 2012, 09:52 PM
I recently made it out to a dealer not to far from me for few bags of a product called drystall. It is for keeping horse stalls clean and is about $12-15 a bag. It's white so it's not the most aesthetic but a little top dressing of something better fixes that. Here is the description from the website of what it is:

Quote
"Dry Stall" is the optimum in horse bedding. It is a horse bedding that will NOT decompose or have to be removed -
it is permanent.

"Dry Stall" is a naturally occurring lightweight volcanic aggregate. Due to its porosity, it is an ideal medium for aerating, softening, and draining your soil. "Dry Stall" is more absorbent and offers better soil conditioning than decomposed gravel or sand.

The website is http://www.drystall.com/dry_stall.html (ftp://http://www.drystall.com/dry_stall.html)

Their site has most of the info except the dealer information.  I was turned on to the local dealer by John Callaway (a frequenter of this forum) maybe a call would somebody there. Hope this helps
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: MatsuBonsai on May 08, 2012, 10:13 PM
Drystall is pumice. Not exactly an akadama substitute, but plentiful in horse country. They're friendly enough and more than willing to help locate a local dealer.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Sulaiman on May 09, 2012, 09:37 AM
Our mixture in South Africa

30-60% gravel/stone- between 3-6mm Worcester stone
25-40% potting soil or milled bark
10-30% river sand if you can get
 Add ons
Bone meal
Osmocote fertilizer
Phosphorous ferilizer
blood meal

Most important thing is that you soil has aeration and that your soil dries up between watering other than that a tree can only grow so fast in a year and if you clip or prune it, it will slow down the growth rate.

So don't worry about akadama use what you got so long it is organic.  ;D
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 09, 2012, 11:30 PM
Thanks for the information.  That is similar to the mix some bonsai people use in America.  Many people in the U.S.A. (and Japan) feel that using products with high porosity and quick drainage is a more ideal mix.  Climate plays a big role.  Having used a mix similar to that when I first got into bonsai, I have found it to encourage longer and less fine roots, thicker terminal shoots, etc.  It is easier to maintain moisture for some species though. 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: bigDave on May 14, 2012, 07:39 PM
  It would be nice to have something produced in the States without all the hassle.

there is a business idea there I think,

Someone young and strong...

and no college, oh and not against hard work and dirt.

hmmmmm
Do we have anyone like that left in America ?

 ;D
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Sulaiman on May 15, 2012, 03:45 AM
Using stone/gravel that is sharp will assist with splitting of roots and making it more fibrous. Also cut the roots that does not have lots  fibrous or cut it back same like you will do to a branch if internodes is to long. 8)
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: BoneSci on May 15, 2012, 12:59 PM
Hi Owen (and all),

Just wondering why Turface doesn't seem to be a suitable substitute in the discussion so far. After reading Peter Tea's most recent blog post (awesome btw), it seems akadama is the component with the highest water retention and it seems to me Turface would be a nice replacement - with the only drawback that the particle sizes available are to small. Is this the only reason or is there something else about it that brings the need for a better substitute for akadama?

Chris
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Judy on May 15, 2012, 06:01 PM
Yeah, if we could only convince the turface people to make a larger particle!

 I think that this is the problem most folks have with it, but it also doesn't warm up as fast, hold heat longer, and basically stabilize the temperature in the root zone as well as akadama, from what I've read... (I do currently use turface/bark 80/20)  But I have this year gotten a mix from Bonsai Den that is haydite, coarse river sand, orchid bark, and charcoal.  I'm trying the non bark mix on my pines, and the bark mix on some deciduous... So far so good.  I like the larger particle size, and it looks nice too.  Drainage seems great, I think it holds a bit less water than turface... So maybe I could mix a bit in.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Yenling83 on May 15, 2012, 06:35 PM
Thanks for the information.  That is similar to the mix some bonsai people use in America.  Many people in the U.S.A. (and Japan) feel that using products with high porosity and quick drainage is a more ideal mix.  Climate plays a big role.  Having used a mix similar to that when I first got into bonsai, I have found it to encourage longer and less fine roots, thicker terminal shoots, etc.  It is easier to maintain moisture for some species though. 

Owen what mix or mixes do you use at the nursery you are apprenticing at?
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 15, 2012, 07:24 PM
I didn't bring up Turface because I'm looking for more new or at least not popular on a National scale products.  I've used Turface and Primera one for years in America.  I gradually used more and more of those products and less organic matter in my mixes over the years.  I used a ton of granite grit a few years ago as it was free.  Peter's recent blog post was very good and well put.  I feel the same.  I had to take a few soil science courses in the past and I was training bonsai at the time. My professor said "I support the idea of a drainage layer and think replication of the soil structure common for a given species in scale with the tree size would be ideal".

At Kouka-en we use Aoki Blend.  It is similar to what people call "Boon's Mix" from what i can tell.  It's a mix of Kiryu, akadama, and suna (this last one comes in many sizes and sources); basically akadama, pumice, and some other sort of volcanic rock.  We buy various particle size mixes for Shohin, chuhin, Ogata.  There are separate conifer and deciduous / broadleaf evergreen mixes.  We also buy Aoki high fired large particle and x-tra large particle for drainage layer.  We use Kanuma for satsuki and occasionally a pinch of softer akadama for trees that dry out super fast. 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Elliott on May 19, 2012, 07:18 PM
the most important thing about akadama is the cation exchange. it holds the decaying ions released by organic fertilzer and the tree roots can "eat at will" without a cation exchange product in the soil, its like Ryan Neil says, "its like throwing a bunch of playing cards in the air and trying to catch them as they fall" in other words, with just lava and pumice, etc, the fertilizer ions just pass through with the water.
 Organic materials like fir bark, etc have a high cation exchange, but most of us don't want to use organics in our soil mix.
 the perfect replacement for akadama would be inorganic, doesn't break down, and holds moisture. some people are saying diatamaceous earth (or however you spell it) or possibly kitty litter or the calidama.
 the perfect substitute is probably all around us, readily available and "dirt cheap" ::), we just don't have an easy way to check cation exchange without a laboratory.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: akeppler on May 20, 2012, 06:08 PM
Well not exactly...


While clay in general has the ability to hold nutrients akadama has a poor coeffecient. Its CEC is rather low as compared to other soil products. What akadama does well is work in conjunction with organic based fetilizers. The humates in the organic fertilizer help to change the ionic composition of the clay and allow it to hold on to the fertilzer ions.

Using akadama with chemical fertlizers would be more akin to Ryan's analogy.

Akadama on its own is really nothing and does nothing better than a hundred other soils would do. Introducing organic fertilizer or the additions of humates such as leonardite complete this complex exchange. This would be a lot of the reason sections of the country give akadama such a bad rap and say its not worth the money becuase either they do not use humates nor use organic fertilizers. In that case akadama really is not worth the money.

I prefer it because I fertilize heavily with humates and organic fertilizers. With liberal additions of humates one can even make lava work like akadama. With lava having absolutly no CEC capability, the additions of humates can make lava hold on to fertilizer ions easily.

Also, additions like fir bark which may have a higer coeffecient do not add to the soil and some respects make it worse due the high absorption of nitrogen in the decay process. The last thing we want to do is add anything that absorbs nitrogen. But having organics in a soil mix is not necessarily a bad thing. It just has to be composted to the point it is releasing humates and not robbing nitrogen. This means it has to be past the point of rotton and now almost soil. It should smell good and smell like mushrooms. At that point there is nothing on earth as good as this black gold. It will clog a pot though and that brings up a whole new thread!

Later, Al
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Chrisl on May 21, 2012, 12:12 PM
Great information Al!  May I ask how you introduce Humates into your organic fertilizing? 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Dave G on May 21, 2012, 12:32 PM
Thanks Al, that was very interesting, and lead to quite long time on the web trying to learn more about humates.
There seems to be quite a few products out there, and while I do believe there are definite benefits there seems to be a lot of snake oil people out there too (especially with human consumption side)
Can I assume that your picture with the gro power bag would be an endorsement of that product?
 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Alain Bertrand on May 21, 2012, 01:54 PM
If one fertilize at each watering by using osmocote like fert, pellet organic fert or liquid fert (the latter being a little bit cumbersome if you don't use an injector), the CEC of the substrate, or any added capability to hold nutrients is of none or little value.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Tim Gardner on May 26, 2012, 03:06 PM
To all that have commented to this post, there is red clay all over the south. Aka dama means red clay balls. The question is how do we pellatize it?  The two needle pines that grow wild here are very similar to jbp, and they are growing in nothing but clay.  :-\
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: akeppler on May 26, 2012, 04:27 PM
To all that have commented to this post, there is red clay all over the south. Aka dama means red clay balls. The question is how do we pellatize it?  The two needle pines that grow wild here are very similar to jbp, and they are growing in nothing but clay.  :-\

There is clay virtually everywhere on earth. Clay is just sand that has been ground to powder. Anyplace there is erosion clay will be present in vast quantities. In America, gathering clay, drying it, crushing it and sorting it to a certain size, meeting EPA regulations for dust control, bagging and shipping should make it around $105.72 a bag give or take a few cents.

Is that where we want to go with dirt for bonsai?

The best one can do is find whats readily available in your local area and adapt that the best you can to your watering habits and species grown. Anything cheap and available in America is going to come via a byproduct of something else. This mocha lava I am sure is used in the trade for making concrete blocks. We have a huge block making plant about 20 miles from where I live and they get truckloads of haydite from a plant on the grapevine (Mountains between LA and the central valley) in Gorman. I called, they will fill a pickup for like 30.00 but I have to remember what the name of the place is.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Tim Gardner on May 26, 2012, 05:30 PM
$105. 72 per bag? Really!!
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: akeppler on May 26, 2012, 06:19 PM
Thats cheap! First you have to aquire the ground from wich to collect the red balls from. Gather appropriate tractors and dump trucks to get it to the crusher. Motorized screener (described elsewhere here) and then contain all this in an APA approved building with apprpriate dust collecting apparatice. License, workers comp. liability insurance, bags, labor, pallets and a way to get it to market and/or ship it.

In todays market thats cheap!

35.00 a bag don't sound so spensive does it.....

bout 3.00 a bag for me.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Michael T on May 27, 2012, 07:12 AM
If turface and other high fired clay substrates fail to hold fertilizers for sufficient periods, what's wrong with just adding slow release fertilizers to the mix that provide a continuous food source at each watering?

I use straight turface and mix in Schultz's slow release fertilizer (small granular feed that's not visible when mixed in) and feed once a week with Miracle Gro's pre-mixed liquid fertilizers and my trees have never been healthier.  The growth is ridiculous.

My surinam cherries produced cherries this spring that were the size of golf balls.  My Maples have been cut back four times in two months.

In short, the fact that substrates like turface allow the fertilizer to wash out with each watering simply allows the tree to be fed at greater and more frequent intervals without fear of toxicity building in the soil base.  Isn't that Walter's point and practice? With no risk of compaction.

I've been following that protocol for two full seasons.  Starting my third.  And my trees have never been healthier.

The only down side is that I water every day when I used to be able to let them slide a day or two.  But, that just encouraged me to neglect my trees.  Now I see them every day which causes me to pay better attention to their condition. 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 27, 2012, 09:09 AM
Organic fertilizers applied at lower rates for refined trees help keep their fine branching soft or foliage shorter / smaller.  As has been put forward in other threads, synthetics and "super-feeding" during development can be great.  I prefer Osmocote.  However, in a hot and even more dangerous also wet environment, those prills will release a lot faster. 

Certain species will also accept or resent super feeding.  Walter is right that many fertilzers work. Something without kanji on the label does work too  ;D.  He mentioned using whatever was cheap at the time.  Walter is probably also knowledgable about exactly what is in each one and changes rates of application accordingly. 

Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Tim Gardner on May 27, 2012, 10:17 AM
Owen were are you studying in Japan? I think that osmocote is ok, but I would put it in a tea bag or something that will allow you to take it off after spring when the weather starts getting hot.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 27, 2012, 06:15 PM
Hi Tim, I'm studying at Kouka-en.  Fujikawa-San has never heard of Osmocote  ;D.  I used it a lot back home; it was free.  The tea bags are a good idea.  When I return, I'm planning on making my own fertilizer cakes or getting them from someone else stateside.  That and I'll used liquid synthetics and organics. 
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Alain Bertrand on May 28, 2012, 01:40 AM
Quote
Fujikawa-San has never heard of Osmocote
In fact, the first *cote fertilizer ever was a Japanese invention by Chisso corp. (yes, the same corporation responsible of the Minimata disease). That is funny that bonsai people don't know that kind of fertilizer.
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: akeppler on May 28, 2012, 01:48 AM
If it were in the shape of a rapeseed cake, they would know about it....
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Tim Gardner on May 28, 2012, 05:55 PM
Hi Tim, I'm studying at Kouka-en.  Fujikawa-San has never heard of Osmocote  ;D.  I used it a lot back home; it was free.  The tea bags are a good idea.  When I return, I'm planning on making my own fertilizer cakes or getting them from someone else stateside.  That and I'll used liquid synthetics and organics. 


Cool! I studied at Daiju en in Okazaki under Tohru Suzuki. I will be returning there soon. How is Bjorn these days? How is the apprentice life treating you?
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Owen Reich on May 28, 2012, 09:12 PM
Life is good.  Learning more and more every day.  It's an apprenticeship, so I'm constantly physically and mentally tired.....  You understand  ;D. Bjorn is doing well.  He's in Nashville with Fujikawa-San right now teaching.  He'll be back here in August I think.  I posted a list of Japanese terms on one of your blog posts a while back.  Please email that to me if you don't mind; I want to send it to Michelle. 

Thanks
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: Tim Gardner on May 29, 2012, 04:50 PM
Owen, my blog is down right now, I need to renew my account. I am not sure that posts will still be there when I do, so if I don't send it in the near future you know that it wasn't there. If it is, sure I will!


Ganbatte,

Tim Gardner
Title: Re: Akadama Substitutes
Post by: FrankP999 on May 29, 2012, 07:37 PM
I ran across this chart in Journal of American Bonsai Society Vol 43 #4 2009 page 6. The talk about ability to hold fertilizer made me look this up to see the CEC (cation-exchange capacity ) of various materials.

                            CEC   pH      water retention
Kiryu River sand    11.7   5       low
coarse sand    0    7       low
Perlite       1.5-3.5    6.5-7.9       low
akadama          31.4   6.5-6.9       high
red lava rock       10-30?    6       med
haydite/calcinated clay   15-40    7       med
decomposed granite                    1-15    6.5-7                   med
pumice          15    7-7.5       low
Kanuma          62    6.4       high
Turface          33    n       med
pine bark          53-100    4-5.1       high
charcoal          >200    6.7-9.7       low
sphagnum peat       100-180    3.9-4.9       high